How stretching can benefit your physical and mental health, and improve your problem solving skills

By Ben Young
  • Do you ever feel stiff, sore, and a little too stressed from life’s challenges? Chances are you aren’t stretching enough
  • Whether you are an athlete or a couch potato, everyone can benefit from stretching
By Ben Young |

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Do you ever feel stiff, sore, and a little too stressed from life’s challenges? Chances are you aren’t stretching enough.

While you often hear about stretching and the benefits it provides, it’s still neglected by people – even when exercising.

“A lot of people understand the benefits of exercise and training, but they still don’t stretch enough,” said Ayla Tse, a yoga instructor at Pure Yoga. “It doesn’t matter if you’re an athlete or if you don’t exercise at all – everyone can benefit from stretching,”

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Tse, 23, said that stretching is very important in assisting the recovery process following intense exercise.

“Whenever you use your muscles, whether it is at the gym or during anaerobic exercise [running, cycling, swimming], they build up lactic acid,” she said. “Stretching allows your muscles to get the oxygen and blood they need to break down this lactic acid and other waste products. This makes your muscles feel looser, and speeds up recovery.”

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In Hong Kong, however, it’s more common to find people who don’t exercise at all. Tse said stretching is very beneficial for them.

“A lot of people sit in an office and work all day, which means their hips get really stiff … this is really bad for your spine and posture,” she said. “Some people do jobs where they have to stand all day, but it doesn’t matter. If your body is in the same position for a long period of time, your body will get stiff, so you need to stretch.”

The same applies to students who spend a lot of time sitting in a classroom or revising.

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Tse said stretching brings a host of mental benefits. “Stretching makes you more flexible not just in your body, but in your mind,” she said. “Chances are if your body is rigid and stiff, you’re rigid in your thinking, you’re rigid in the way you approach problems. I really believe there is a link between your body being open and flexible, and being open and flexible in your life.”

When stretching, Tse said people should “start slow” to avoid injury.

“Ease your way into it,” she said. “There is such a thing as being too flexible. Some people try to push it and try to do crazy stretches right away, which is very dangerous. Make sure you master the correct forms of the stretches and just enjoy the process.”

Different types of stretches

Static stretching – basic stretches for anyone who does not necessarily want to exercise or attend a yoga class. “Some basic static stretches include bending over with your legs straight and touching your toes, or holding the back of your chair and bending your body sideways,” Tse said. The good thing about static stretches is that they can be performed anywhere, anytime.

Dynamic stretching – exercises that combine movement with stretching. This can be an exercise of its own or serve as a warm-up before doing sport. “Dynamic stretching is great because it improves both flexibility and mobility,” Tse said. “In my opinion, it’s the most useful form of stretching.”

Yoga – there are many forms of yoga, with some focused on static stretching, dynamic stretching, or both. Other forms of yoga are about mental aspects, mindfulness, and relaxation. “There are so many different types,” said Tse, who recommends people experiment to find out what suits them best. “No matter what you’re looking for, you can find a class or style of yoga that is suited to your goals and experience level.”

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